" She's from the Rose Door – the third to the right," pointed the matron;"they brought her here six days ago, but it should have been six months before. You may be sure she has infected more than one with tuberculosis."
The place was the Woman's Hospital and the listening lady, a patron, who made regular visits.
" She's college bred – not a common happening at the Rose Door, I take it," continued the matron." She is frantic to get back home. Of course, she would not live through the long journey. Also, of course, we do not tell her so, but lead her to believe that she will be taken there as soon as she is better."
" Where is her home?"
"Minnesota? Why, that is my birth state, and oh, I know how the longing for it hurts. May I talk to her?"
" She'll be happy to have you do so, and except at coughing periods, she talks easily."
Later, by an hour, the visiting lady sought the matron to exclaim: " We've got it all arranged. She's to come to me. I shall send for her tomorrow, and a tent on our back lawn will be ready for her. She shall at least have Minnesotans near her for the short time she has to live. Please send with her the best nurse you can procure."
" You are certainly an angel of mercy, Mrs Thompson," replied the matron. But Mrs. Thompson's husband viewed the transaction differently.
" What possessed you to bring her here?"
" She's a dying girl, Merritt."
" All the more reason for leaving her at the hospital."
" But she was so homesick for Minnesota."
"Well, our lawn is not Minnesota."
" No, but Minnesota is our native state, as it is hers, and she is entranced when I talk to her of the homeland. Surely it is a little thing for us to do, and yet it is so much to her. Go in sometime, Merritt, and speak to her. She has been beautiful."
"Is there any of it left?"
"Yes, waves of brown hair, shining blue eyes -- all too shining -- and cheeks all too red."
" Well, I'll think about it."
Several hours each day, Mrs. Thompson sat in the tent, but she did not do all of the interesting talking.
" And there's a little girl? "
" Yes, she's past five now, but she's only a year old to me, and just toddling, because that was all she could do the last time I saw her."
" Do you mind telling me all about it, a little at a time, as you feel inclined from day to day? The knowledge may help me to aid some other girl before she has suffered as much as you have."
And so it was told.
"I had to leave an almost finished college course to earn my living. Soon after, I met the One, the Only One, that every girl dreams of from maidenhood to marriage. By day we both worked, but evenings we looked into each other's eyes. As I gazed, a picture grew of home, of love and children, but I never uttered the vision. What he saw, he did not speak, but I knew by the light in his eyes that he held it dear. When his business should shape itself aright, he would talk of the home; this, my heart confided to me. Dear at the first, he grew always dearer, till heaven would have been hateful without him. One day close held in his arms he whispered, " To err is human, forgiveness is divine. I love you; Shall I go? I am already married!
" "I fell down and died awhile, but fear tossed me back to life, and quickly I called out, just one word, ' Stay!'
" Heaven came close. Then the ephemeral went, and the everlasting came. My baby--my little baby. For a whole year I refused such work as would separate me from her; and for a whole year we starved -- my baby and I. Then with a needle rusty from dropping tears, I worked her name -- Jordana Howells -- on all her little garments, and left her at a foundling door.
"Not a few knew me as the mother of an illegitimate child, and deserted. Poverty cannot hide those things. When I obtained office work it was accompanied by the supposition that I was common rental, so I had to give that up. Then I tried teaching, but I was not allowed to finish my term. A little later, a wealthy bachelor, stricken with tuberculosis, was leaving for California, and suggested that I accompany him. I did. What else was there left for me to do? The world would not permit me to earn an honest living--it would not let me redeem my jewel from the pawn in which I had placed it; my only alternative was one man or many. I preferred one. He died within a year."
Day after day Mrs. Thompson listened; wider parted her eyelids as she listened and faster beat her pulse. Who had cast Grace Howells out of her school work? Was it men? Immaculate men? Was it women who always forgive the erring man? She would ask Grace. Grace answered: "Men send girls to the bad, Mrs. Thompson, but women keep them there."
"How, Grace? "
" Leaving out of count the mongrels among men, and the felines among women, the men of fine principle will say: " Give the girl another chance, give her a dozen chances. But the women of integrity -- they will not have it so."
And Mrs. Thompson thought as she listened. And as she lay in bed at night, she thought. Did girls really wish to get out of that life? She would ask Grace.
" Many, many girls at the Rose Door and like places, struggle feebly or vigorously, according to the strength of their characters, to get out after a short apprenticeship," answered Grace. "A girl named Rebecca told me her story; a great many gave me their experiences, but hers particularly impressed me; not because her personality charmed me -- she was forceful, not gentle; aggressive, not winsome; loyal, not yielding; and handsome, not pretty. But because she was a foreigner and without knowledge of the world, the pity of it was intensified.
" If I were to declare that every girl in immoral work was first drugged, you would hardly credit me. But I do say so -- all of them, by the most powerful of all drugs -- Deception. And none are so effectually deceived as those who deliberately enter it for money. There is no money in it -- for the girl. Four prices are charged her for the necessaries of her life. Her "Managers " have what they choose to name. The police take the rest. She has food and clothes yes, but money in the bank for broken-down-health days; that would be an affront to the police et al."
" Will you tell me the story of the girl you mentioned -- the foreigner? " asked Mrs. Thompson.
"Oh, Rebecca, yes. Rebecca was poor when she came to America, and still poorer when she wished to leave. There was a lover in the Fatherland, too poor to send her passage money homeward. She was homesick; she was despairing. She would have walked the whole distance back, begging from door to door, if some thousands of miles had not been water.
" A man of her own race proposed a partnership with her in -- I was going to say 'crime,' but a business desired by the best element of society as a safeguard for virtuous women cannot be called a crime. An occupation fostered by the state as promoting commercial prosperity is surely a social blessing. And when the breaking of one half of its daughters that the other half may live, is pronounced by the nation Expediency, its dying ones deserve to rank with the soldier -- the patriot who fights and dies for his 'boarding house,' as Ingersoll has put it. So I will amend my statement. He planned a philanthropic enterprise with the vicarious act exclusively hers. This for a period of three months, out of which she was to receive two-thirds of the income, and with that sum she could return to homeland and lover to spend the rest of her days in devout thankfulness at having escaped from the 'Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.'
"At the end of the three months there were several hundred dollars due her. But in order to get away from the man at all, she had to steal out with only ten dollars in her pocket.
" She was done with that kind of life. She had learned its lessons -- absolute subjection, robbery, abuse.
" Through an employment agency, she obtained kitchen work. Her mistress valued her, not only as a domestic, but also as protection during the many days that business took her husband away from home. It was six weeks before Rebecca served him at table; then she placed the roast before -- a former customer !
"'Send that girl off, bag and baggage,' were his directions to his wife when Rebecca had left the room.
" The obedient wife paid Rebecca and told her that if she were not out of the house in an hour, she would call the police.
" That she might not be traced, Rebecca sought work through a different labor bureau. A month passed -- a comfortable month; full of cooking, washing and ironing, but she owned her own body. Nor was hope extinguished; she would get back to the Fatherland; she was earning three dollars a week; she would not spend one penny and at the end of a year she would go back. She had her dreams, too -- by day and by night; she would go to Benjamin; she would tell him the whole story; he would believe her. It was the truth; it would sound like the truth. Then his old love for her and her constant love for him would aid her in convincing him. She was young yet, and good looking -- yes, better looking that when she left the Fatherland, and that would help some. She determined to regain Benjamin's love, though she could not marry him. He belonged to her--not to the other woman -- hadn't she paid the price ?
" One day she fairly collided with a down-town policeman who recognized her and demanded former favors. When she told him she was 'living straight now,' he laughed and re-demanded. She refused. He was offended. He asked her where she was working. She refused to tell. He told her he would find out, and he did.
"Manfully he did his duty to the virtuous woman Rebecca was serving, and out Rebecca went,'bag and baggage.'
" But Rebecca was a stubborn spirit -- as bad as Banquo's ghost. To the very edge of the city, she went, seeking work.
" A young married woman and a baby needed her. Rebecca grew fond of the baby, therefore the mother grew fond of Rebecca.
" One day Ah Sing brought the husband's laundry. Rebecca took it.
" When the wife paid him, he lowered his voice to say: 'She livee your house?'
"'Yes, she does my work.'
"'You nicee lady. You no keepee her. She badee woman in Chinatown.'
" The lady interviewed Rebecca. Rebecca told her all and insisted that she wished to work hard for the rest of her life.
" The lady told her she feared she could not be trusted.
" Rebecca arrived at the Rose Door, 'bag and baggage.'
"Mrs. Thompson, do you want to hear a fable? "
" Yes, if you are the narrator."
"Once a boat capsized with a dozen people, half men and half women; but as a bridge was just over their heads they all succeeded in climbing up the supports to its roadway. Whenever a mall was seen clutching the balustrade the hurrying travellers above paused to offer a hand to him. Especially did the women do noble work, a score sometimes assisting one man over the railing. Later, the white fingers of the capsized women appeared grasping the floor of the bridge. The rushing men scarcely noticed them but the quick sympathy of the women spied them on the instant, and they gently stepped on them. If that act were not sufficient to make the clingers take the hint, they quietly in a ladylike way, and patiently in a Christian-like way, but persistently in a businesslike way kicked the fingers with their toes till the hands loosened their hold and their owners each and all fell back into the water, and were never seen on the bridge again.
" Then it went down in history that the chief difference between a man and a woman is that when they both fall into the water, the woman likes it so well that she always remains with the mermaids while the mall is commonly known to climb away from those wicked vocalists into the outstretched arms of the heavenly singers on the bridge above."
Each night, after the day's narrative, Mrs. Thompson heard, close pressed to her ear as the pillow, the whisper, " Men send girls to the bad, but women keep them there."
One day Grace volunteered: " Next to Rebecca, the most unusual character that I met at the Rose Door was a Socialist. He preferred me to the other girls because I would listen to his talk. Socialism was his religion. Personally, he would not have cared if the whole world knew he was a regular at the house; but he would rather have been unsexed than injure the Cause. I had heard Socialism called a 'home breaker'; he called it a home maker, and always ended his visit with: 'When Socialism comes, it will wipe prostitution off the earth. It is only a matter of bread and butter,' he said. 'Since the world began, maid and youth have mated outside the marriage bond and they will continue to do so until the end of time, because God says, only, "Mate," while man alone, pipes, " Marry." But since the world began woman has never given her body willingly to men she loathed, except as a means of subsistence, and to the end of time, she never will for any other reason.' "
" My Susie, my Susie! " and the morning stars looked in on Mrs. Thompson's sleepless pillow.
Another day, "Tell me more of your odd friend, if you don't mind. It is a new thought to me."
"Yes, it was to me and I haven't been able to digest it all, yet. He said the Rose Door was a business, like any other business--for the money in it. That it was a competitive business, like all businesses. Its dealers, like all dealers, must make the business attractive, must struggle for the largest market; for the highest prices. Must obtain supply of goods -- our girls; must stimulate the demand for the goods -- our boys. Must lower the price of stale goods; and sweep into the alley the unsalable. Must order fresh goods continually, and evoke desire by the best advertising methods."
With down-dropped lids Mrs. Thompson mused. At last rousing, "How could you, Grace, with your refinement, endure to wallow with the swine of mankind? "
"Oh, I didn't, Mrs. Thompson. The Rose Door is one of the respectable places. The dirty, the ragged, the drunkard, the negro, the soldier, and the Mongolian, are barred out."
"Then how much business could you do? "
" A rushing business, continuous and regular."
"Where did you get your trade? "
" From high-school students and business men and officers of the Presidio."
" High-school students ! You don't mean that, Grace, surely."
" In three years, Mrs. Thompson, your Frank will know the street and number of the Rose Door--Oh, forgive me, dear Mrs. Thompson, I didn't mean to say that."
The blood tide had ebbed and flowed in Mrs. Thompson's face.
" Do you mean you made a misstatement? "
There was no reply from Grace.
"Or, do you mean that you regret that you thoughtlessly told me a killing truth--a truth that would kill? "
From between Grace's white eyelids splashed tears upon her whiter hands. Mrs. Thompson left the tent to be alone, all alone for a time. My Frank, my Frank! was the chant that night.
Another day, "What more did your friend say, Grace?"
" He made one very strong statement -- one I meant to study up to see if it could be verified, but, well, in my work, we have one all-absorbing study -- how to get and hold men, and I never found time to read up on it. He said that if all the women in the world were brutally ravished they would not sustain one-thousandth of the physical and mental injury that now comes to them from the love-plague via prostitution. Father and husband contract it; heredity and marriage transmit it. There is no cure for it; doctors merely drive it out of sight and some day the healed looks up to see a grisly wraith ambling along at his side -- ataxia or its brother. He quoted the great Doctor Zossler as saying, 'Whoever learns all there is to know about the love disease, need study no other disease.' "
Hours later Mrs. Thompson closed her eyes to the lullaby, "My Susie; my Frank; my Frank; my Susie."
" I'm going to the public library," said Mrs. Thompson one morning, " to get some books on the subjects your peculiar friend was so fond of discussing, and together we'll put him to the test."
" He certainly was unlike any other man who came to us. One night I had a sore throat and fever; when he left, he paid the price of a night on condition that I be not disturbed.
" Another time he arranged for me to hear a noted Socialist speak. I met him at Kearny and Market Streets, where we took a car. When we reached the hall he gave me a ticket and I went in alone. After the meeting he took me home --"
" Home !" There was a little shock in Mrs. Thompson's voice.
" Well, I know the word wouldn't bear analysis," acquiesced Grace. "A year ago, he went to New York, but he stopped over a whole day in Minneapolis to find my baby and write me all about her. He had her picture taken, and the photographer sent it to me. She isn't the baby I left, but she is a beautiful child--I wonder what her fate will be."
"I wonder what her fate will be? " was the song Mrs. Thompson carried to dreamland that night.
One day, as his wife had suggested, Mr. Thompson stepped to the tent door and looked in. Mrs. Thompson looked up from a book. The sick girl also looked up; then she raised herself upon an elbow to look --" Merritt ! "
He will be no whiter when he is dead. He will be no more motionless when he is coffined for one moment -- then he walked away.
Can you picture the composite -- Question, Incredulity, Terror? Then you have the look on Ida Thompson's face.
There was silence in the tent; the girl's breath came fast.
"Tell me, Grace!"
"Was it -- was it he? "
"Don't ask me, dear Mrs. Thompson."
"I am answered. And -- his --name -- at that time?"
"Merritt Jordan ! "
" And the baby you named 'Jordana Howells.' --I see."
Calling the nurse, Mrs. Thompson left for the night.
There was a conversation in the house of the ambitious fuchsia.
" Did you know there was a child, Merritt?"
"I refuse to discuss the matter, Ida. The man is all to blame, if you let the woman tell the story."
"I am not weighing the blame at present. I am merely asking if you knew there was a child, of which you are the father? "
" How do I know how many visitors she had in my absence? "
" I am answered," said Ida Thompson. " For the children's sake, the same roof shall cover us. Continue to live a bachelor life, when absent from home; I, too, shall live single, though in a different sense. For the children's sake, also, we must be courteous to each other in their presence -- out of their sight, we shall not meet. When they are grown I shall claim the right to live elsewhere; but at no time, will I be a party to consigning one child of the same family to poverty and loneliness, while the others have love and luxury."
"What do you mean? "
"I am going to Minneapolis for the child."
" And start the tongues of the whole city to wagging ? Great consideration for your children, that!"
"I can count my own life as naught for my children, but I will not abandon their sister to misery and shame. You call proclaim the child an orphaned relative, and let it go at that, if you wish, but I am going to Minneapolis for the child."
"You're a fool! "
"I am not a knave! "
Merritt Jordan Thompson left on a business trip.
" You've grown fond of writing of late," said Mrs. Thompson, when Grace had scribbled on and off for three consecutive days.
"Oh, I'm just dreaming of Minnesota, and writing down my dreams," she smiled back.
"If they're homesick dreams, I shall spoil them, for I have something beautiful to tell you; I am going to Minneapolis for your baby; you shall have her here with you; when you get well you shall still have her -- she shall never leave you again."
"Oh, Mrs. Thompson!" was all the answer for that day.
The next day: " Dear Mrs. Thompson, I am not going to get well; I thought for a long time that I would, but at last, I see that I cannot."
"We are going to hope that you will, Grace, but if you should leave us, your baby shall forever more live with her brother and sister; to share their home, their education and the love I bear them."
" Oh, Mrs. Thompson!" was all the answer.
Day after day in Mrs. Thompson's ears, rang the accusation --" Men send girls to the bad, but women keep them there."
"But Grace," she said in defense, "I have been told that such women are invariably untruthful and deceitful in every particular, and spend their whole thought upon setting traps of every description for men."
" Prostitution is a business, Mrs. Thompson, nothing more. Selling intoxicating drinks is a business also. In each case, the salesman's whole occupation is to stimulate trade -- to advertise, to attract the largest number of patrons possible without concern as to the result to the customer. Remove the profits in either business, and you have killed the business."